Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven, is a very honest, twisted film. The lead character in the film might be one of the most compelling and fascinating characters I’ve watched in quite some time. She forever surprised me, and I never knew what she was going to say or do next. This is also a film that balances many plot threads effortlessly; fully enveloping you in a group of people who all have their particular quirks and issues. And then every so often, it blindsides you with some disturbing events that play out in a way that I’m still thinking about. So let’s get on with the fuller review itself, and see what it is that makes this film so unforgettable.
We follow Michèle Leblanc – played by Isabelle Huppert – and her very different life. As a young child she was witness to the horrors that are father committed, that then saw him incarcerated for life. And now as a much older woman, she is pulled into a cat and mouse type game with a man who broke into her house, in broad daylight, and raped her. But Michèle does not respond to such a terrible situation in the way you’d expect, in fact, she doesn’t really respond to any situation like how you’d expect. She is utterly unique, and it is in how she approaches any situation that makes the plot and the characters surrounding her, all so interesting to watch.
It is in the films lead character, Michèle Leblanc that I found myself completely enraptured by this film. As a person, she is just so very different. Her reaction to almost any situation is never what you expect, and just how honest and upfront she is in every interaction makes for some truly tantalising watching. I could have spent so much more time with her, as never knowing what was the next thing to come out of her mouth or the next thing she would do, kept me as an audience member, continually engaged.
And what it is that makes her this way is disturbing and dark. What happened when Michèle was a little girl, has now shaped her life quite a bit. People still look at her like she was a willing participant in her father’s murderous actions, and many people think her family are evil. This causes her to be as brash and honest as she is. She has probably lived her entire life having to defend herself against people who don’t know her. I say ‘probably’ because like any good film, it leaves you to put the pieces together. ‘Elle’ lays out a lot of what makes up Michèle’s life, and then it is you, the viewers job, to figure it out and put together all the information that you’re shown. It never has its characters stop and deliver an expository load of information. When it does choose to offer information, it does so in a way that feels natural and normal within the context of the film, which in turn helps to continue the realistic feeling that the film has.
But it is in how Michèle responds to being sexually assaulted that some of the most fascination for the character occurs. She never once reacted or handled the situation how I expected her to. A lot of her decision-making is influenced by her past; her dealings with the police and how she has put up mental walls over time (between her and other people). She is clearly someone who is emotionally distant, and this can make her seem quite callous. And even after being attacked in her own home, she responds in quite a contained, reserved, but motivated way. I mean, how she informs her friends of the attack is surprising: sitting in a restaurant and just casually telling them, before the Champaign then arrives.
Which actually brings me onto a point of the film I wasn’t expecting to be as prevalent as it was: how humorous, and at times laugh out loud funny it was. With Michèle’s honesty and very different approach to situations, we get a lot of very frank responses, and outspoken commentary on other people and the madness of their lives. I never went into ‘Elle’ expecting that I, along with the rest of the audience, would be audibly laughing at much of what, Michèle said or did.
But there are people other than Michèle in the film. There is actually quite a rich supporting cast of characters in the film. They of course don’t get the same amount of screen-time or development that Michèle does, but what they get is still fulfilling. They feel really well-rounded, and so much of their quirks and basic human failings are clear to see and enjoy. Michèle has an eclectic group of friends, and her interactions with them – whether she is boning her best friend’s husband or mocking her mother’s toy-boy – are always enjoyable and intriguing to watch. They all help to further expand one another, and they all make for a fuller, realer feeling film.
What that ever-present levity did, was only strengthen the realness of the whole experience. Weirdly, it made Michèle feel even more alive and true, despite the fact that her response to a particular event was so… confusing. I suppose it was in every other area of her life that, that made for furthering the character. Seeing her at a dinner party saying what she wanted or doing what she wanted and just not caring of the other people around her was oddly refreshing, and completely addicting to watch. And of course with the constant threat that Michèle is under, it is nice to have moments where you feel you can relax for a little bit.
Speaking of constant terror; director Paul Verhoeven is able to keep you on edge and never knowing what to expect, by having the awful event of Michèle’s sexual assault be relived a couple more times after it happened. Sometimes Michèle will think back to it and then out of nowhere, we the audience are thrown suddenly back into the assault, and as you’d expect, it never gets easier. It’s almost like Verhoeven is showing that he is in control, and at any moment he can startle you and unease you when he wants. It makes for a very consuming experience. One moment you’re enjoying Michèle and her oh so very different ways and the next you’re being pulled back into the horrible realities of life, with the camera never looks away.
But beyond the sexual assault, the film makes the deliberate decision to not have it be its only focus. Much like how Michèle doesn’t let it consume her life, the film is able to explore many various plot lines in the film – keeping them all balanced and intertwining, perfectly. It all seemed so effortless in execution and it was never, not engaging. A lot of that is thanks to Michèle and – as I’ve stated many times before – how she is within a situation. I don’t think any of my predictions ever turned out to be correct. Every time I thought I had sussed out where the story was going, I was sideswiped by something I did not expect. That constant ability to surprise me, and the unpredictability of the main character, kept me always wanting to pay attention – and in the end wish for so much more of Michèle and her life. Which I feel says a lot about ‘Elle’.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I will be recommending, Elle. It is clear to see why this film won ‘Best Foreign Language’ film at the Golden Globes. It is unforgettable and wholly addicting.
So what did you think of ‘Elle’? Let me know in the comments down below. Following by blog directly, or following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings, is the best way to know when I post anew review. Finally, thank you for dedicating some of your time towards reading my review, it is truly appreciated!